The Lake of the Sky
George Wharton James
Part 4 out of 8
shrugs his shoulders and says, "If you don't believe me, they're
there. Go and count 'em!"
Before the officials treated some of the Basque shepherds with what
seemed to be too great severity there were numerous forest fires on
the reserve. These men were generally both self-willed and ignorant,
and we passed by at this spot a clump of finely growing firs, which
had been destroyed by a fire started by a shepherd the year before.
Watson assures me that he has personally known many cases where a tree
had been blown across a trail, and the shepherd would stop his sheep,
set fire to the "wind-fall" and then leave it to burn--sometimes
allowing it to smolder for months, to the infinite peril of the forest
should an arousing wind blow the fire into life and make it spread.
Fire notices, however, now are everywhere, and a few severe
punishments have largely put a stop to all carelessness on the part of
shepherds, let alone their culpable neglect. There are still campers
and automobilists and others, of the so-called superior and educated
race, who need as severe lessons as some of these ignorant Basque
shepherds. They knock down the forest-service placards, throw down
matches, cigar and cigarette stumps, and often go off and leave a
campfire burning. The time is rapidly coming when severer and swifter
penalties will be meted out to this class of culprits, for not only
are their actions against the law, but they jeopardize all property
in and near to the forests, as well as the lives, sometimes, of many
innocent men, women and children, besides destroying the value of the
mountain slopes as watersheds.
As our trail winds and ascends, the rotting stumps of trees cut years
ago meet the eye on every hand, until at length, when at about 7000
feet altitude we see no more. The indications are clear that, though
the timber is abundant above this elevation, for some reason or other
cutting ceased. Careful observation reveals a possible reason for
this. From this point on up the soil is both thin and poor, and though
the trees seem to have flourished they are, in reality, gnarled,
twisted, stunted and unfit for a good quality of lumber. Many of them
are already showing signs of decay, possibly a proof that they grew
rapidly and are rotting with equal or greater speed.
[Illustration: Pleasure Party on the 'Wild Goose', Lake Tahoe]
[Illustration: Looking Toward the Casino, Tahoe Tavern, Lake Tahoe]
[Illustration: A Trail Party About to Leave Tahoe Tavern]
[Illustration: On the Trail Returning from the Summit of Mt. Tallac]
At this elevation, 7000 to 8000 feet, the red fir begins to appear. It
is an attractive and ever-pleasing tree, its dark red bark soon making
it a familar friend.
How remarkably a woodsman can read what would be an unintelligible
jumble of facts to a city man. Here on one trip we found a tree. Its
top was smitten off and removed a distance of forty to fifty feet.
Parts of the tree were scattered for a distance of two hundred yards.
What caused it? The unobservant man would have passed it by, and the
observant, though untrained and inexperienced, would have wondered
without an answer. And yet a few minutes' observation, with the
interpretation of Bob Watson, made it as clear as the adding of two
to two. The lightning had struck the tree, and shot the top off as if
lifted and carried away bodily, at the same time scattering the pieces
in every direction. Then, it had seemed to jump from this tree to
another, out of the side of which it had torn a large piece, as if,
like a wild beast in angry fury, it had bitten out a giant mouthful of
something it hated. It had then jumped--where? There was no sign. It
Near by we found quite a nursery of graceful, dainty and attractive
young firs; "Noah's ark trees," I always feel like calling them, for
they remind one constantly of the trees found in the Noah's arks of
childhood days, made by the Swiss during the long winter nights in
their mountain chalets, where the trees are of a similar character to
those of the Sierras.
Near to the point at which we turn to the left for Watson's Peak, and
to the right for Watson's Lake, is a delicious, cool, clear spring,
which I instinctively called, "the Spring of the Angels." When Bob
asked the _why_ of the name, the answer quickly came: "It is up
so high and is so pure and good." The elevation is about 8000 feet. We
take to the left.
Here also is found the mountain pine, its fine, smooth, black bark
contrasting markedly with that of the firs and pines further down. It
is generally found not lower than this elevation around Lake Tahoe.
Near by are some scattered hemlocks. This tree is found even higher
than the mountain pine, and is seldom found lower than 8000 feet. In
these higher elevations one sees what a struggle some of the trees
have for mere existence. Again and again a mountain pine will be
found, a tree perhaps fifty feet high, bowed over almost to the
ground. This was done by snow. Given the slightest list from the
perpendicular when the heavy, wet snow falls upon it, it is bound
slowly to be forced over. If it is a tough, strong tree it may sustain
the weight until melting time comes, when it is released. But it never
becomes upright again. On the other hand if a cold snap comes after
the snow has bent it over, it is no uncommon thing for it to snap
right in two, eight, ten or more feet from the ground.
Now we stand on the summit. This peak and its attendant lake were
named after my incomparable guide, Robert Watson, and it is well
that the name of so admirable a man should be preserved in the
region through which he has intelligently and kindly guided so many
interested visitors. The elevation is 8500 feet.
What a wonderful panorama is spread out before us. Close by, just
across the valley in which nestles Watson's Lake, 7900 feet elevation,
is Mt. Pluto, 8500 feet, the sides of which are covered with a dense
virgin forest, thus presenting a magnificent and glorious sight. There
is no trail through this forest though sheep are taken there to graze
in the quiet meadows secluded on the heights.
Further to the east and north is Mt. Rose, 10,800 feet, on which is
perched the Meteorological Observatory of the University of Nevada.
Beyond is the Washoe Range.
Even before reaching the summit we gain a fine view, through the
trees, of Castle Peak, 9139 feet, while further north is Mt. Lola,
9167 feet. Close at hand is a glorious specimen of red fir, fully four
and a half feet in diameter. Below us to the west is a patch of vivid
green, known as Antone Meadows. It was named after a Switzer who lived
there years ago and whose children now own it. Not far away is Round
Meadow, locally known as Bear-Trap Meadow, for one may still find
there an old bear-trap that hunters were wont to use thirty or forty
years ago. In this meadow is the cabin of the Forest Ranger, which we
shall see on the return trip.
Looking now over Lake Tahoe to the western horizon we see, over Tahoe
Tavern, and a little west of north, Needle Peak (8920 feet), to the
right of which is Lyon Peak (about 9000 feet). A trifle to the south
of Needle Peak is Granite Chief, followed by Squaw Peak (8960 feet),
Ward Peak (8665 feet), and Twin Peak (8924 feet) the one to the right
having the appearance of a buffalo feeding.
While these peaks appear in a line, and as if belonging to the same
range, a glimpse at the map will reveal that they are some miles
As we look further south, across the head of Ward and Blackwood Creek
Canyons, the mountains do not seem so high, though we discern Barker
Peak (over 8000 feet).
Still further southward is Ellis Peak (8700 feet) apparently well
timbered. It was named after Jock Ellis, who, on the further side, had
a dairy ranch for a while. But when he found the cream would not rise
in the colder periods of the year, he gave up his dairy, and went to
raising sheep. In the summer months, however, he had no trouble in
disposing of all the butter he could make, or milk and cream he
cared to sell, for he was on the road from Georgetown which passed by
Rubicon Springs to McKinney's on the Lake.
On the ridge to the left are the Rubicon Peaks (9199 feet) three of
them apparently, all closely overlooking Lake Tahoe, and leading the
eye down to Sugar Pine Point, which is at the south end of McKinney's
To the west of Rubicon Peaks is Phipps Peak (9120 feet), and a little
farther back Mt. Tallac (9185 feet), while farther to the south is
Ralston Peak (about 9500 feet), at this angle and distance appearing
not unlike one of the domes of the Yosemite Valley. Near by, to the
right, is Pyramid Peak (10,020 feet), though from here it presents
a very different appearance from that it holds when viewed from
Mt. Tallac. Still farther to the right is Tell's Peak (9125 feet),
apparently at the end of a richly timbered ridge. Tell was an old
Switzer who used to keep a dairy ranch on the slopes of the mountain
bearing his name.
At the extreme south of Lake Tahoe stands Round Top (10,130 feet),
to the left of which are the three great peaks of the Tahoe region,
Freel's (10,900 feet), Job's (10,500 feet) and Job's Sister (10,820
feet). Freel was one of the old timers who used to have a cattle-range
on the slopes.
Then, allowing the eye to follow along the southeastern curve of
the Lake up to the mountains on the eastern side, the first great
depression is the pass over which the Placerville road goes down the
Kingsbury grade to Genoa. At the foot of the grade, at the entrance
to the Carson Valley is Van Sickle's old place, one of the early day
stage-stations on the Placerville road.
Van Sickle was a noted character, a fearless, rude pioneer, but well
liked and highly respected. His fame was materially enhanced when he
killed Sam Brown, one of the noted desperadoes of the Tahoe region in
the days of the Virginia City mining excitement. Tradition says that
Brown was a fire-eating southerner, from Texas, a man proud of his bad
record of several murders. He was notorious in Virginia City, and when
the war broke out was one of the outspoken heralds and advocates of
secession. He had trouble with Van Sickle and had threatened to kill
him on sight. Coming to the place for this purpose he himself was
killed, for Van Sickle secured a shot-gun, "laid for him," and shot
him. A great sense of relief was felt by many people at this, what was
then considered not only a justifiable but highly laudable act, for
Brown was seeking to raise a body of men to go South and fight in
the Civil War. This event had much to do with stopping too vigorous
advocacy of the claims of the South from that time on in Virginia City
and the immediate neighborhood.
The road around the Lake forks at a place originally known as
Edgewood's, the branch to the left continuing along the eastern shore
of Lake Tahoe, past Round Mound and Cave Rock to Glenbrook, where it
swings over the grade to the east and over the summit, divides, one
branch going down Clear Creek Canyon, and the other down King's Canyon
to Carson City. It is thirteen and a half miles from Glenbrook to
Carson by way of King's Canyon, and automobiles use this route, while
stages run regularly over the other route via Clear Creek Canyon which
is only fourteen and a quarter miles to Carson.
It was during the lumbering days at Glenbrook that the railway ran
from the mills to the summit, nine miles, carrying carloads of lumber
there, which were then unloaded and shot down the water-flume to
Letting the eye still follow the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe
completing the circuit, northward, Snow Valley Peak and Marietta Peak
are reached. Under the latter, to the southwest, is Marlette Lake,
largely an artificial body over a mile long and half a mile wide,
which is the reservoir for the water supply of Virginia City. The
course of the conveying flume may distinctly be traced, for part of
its twenty-four miles of length. Both peak and lake were named after
S.H. Marlette, once Surveyor-General of Nevada, and a well-known
character of the earlier mining days.
Just below Marlette Lake, almost directly facing Tahoe Tavern, are
several scarrings, running almost parallel to each other and going in
the most direct fashion to Lake Tahoe. These denote where the flume
broke and the water made its own rude channels to the Lake beneath.
From this inadequate and imperfect description it can readily be
imagined what a sublime and comprehensive view is afforded from
Watson's Peak. Every visitor to Tahoe should take the trip, especially
those who stay for a few days or longer at Tahoe Tavern.
* * * * *
About half a mile northwest from the summit of Watson Peak is Watson
Lake, 7900 feet. It is about 300 yards long by 250 yards broad, hence
rudely oval in shape. While about fifty feet deep in the center, it
shallows toward the edges, where lilies abound, and then becomes mere
marsh. Practically it is surrounded by trees. Restocked with a variety
of fish (trout) in large numbers each year, it is one of the best
fishing lakes at the northern end of Lake Tahoe, and a most enjoyable
day to the angler is to start early, take his lunch along, and spend
the day there.
To those who are not anglers this same day can be spent in the quiet
enjoyment of the trees, flowers, lake and sky.
The outlet from the lake is by Deer Creek, and thence into the Truckee
not far from the site of the old mining-camp of Knoxville.
The return trip to Tahoe Tavern is made through a virgin forest, on
a ridge between Watson Lake and the Truckee Valley, the trail having
been outlined only about five years ago. Later the Forest Rangers
considerably improved it, until now it is a very easy and comfortable
trail to traverse. One notices here the especial "blaze" on the trees,
of the rangers. It consists of a perpendicular parallelogram with a
square above, thus
[Illustration: 'Ranger's Blaze']
Wherever this blaze is found everybody in the region knows it for a
ranger's blaze, denoting a trail leading to a ranger's cabin.
On this ride one has a wonderful illustration of the popular fallacy
in woodcraft that moss is always found on the north side of the trees.
Here the moss is mainly on the west. The fact is the moss is generally
found on the side from which the rain-storms come, and here they are
mainly from the south and southwest. A mile or so away on the trail to
Watson's Lake the moss is all on the southwest side of the trees.
Most of the trees here are red fir and mountain pine, some of them
being of large size, and noble specimens.
A little further on a fine opening reveals Deer Creek, through which
the waters of Watson Lake flow to the Truckee. It was nearing the hour
of sunset when I reached this point, and the trees were glowing
with flaming gold, reminding one of the pictures John Enneking, the
wonderful Boston artist, so loves to paint, while below the water
gleamed like dazzling diamonds.
Along here the side of the ridge below the trail seemed as if plowed
into a number of rudely parallel lines. These were sheep-trails made
as the sheep followed each other over the softer soil of the mountain
A mile and a half from Watson Lake we came to a telephone box. This
was the signal box of the Forest Rangers connecting with Lake Tahoe,
five miles away, Truckee, eight miles, Shaffer's Mills, five miles and
thence to Brockway, six miles. In the direction we were going it was
but one mile to the ranger's log-cabin in Round Meadow.
In the winter time the ranger often finds it difficult to keep the
line in operation. The damp snow falling upon the wire, clings to it,
freezes and keeps receiving additions until it is bigger than a man's
arm, and the weight breaks it down.
As we rode along we saw a fat porcupine, weighing full twenty-five
pounds and deliberately walking up the slope near by, as if going to
its den in the rocks, but, though we yelled and shouted, it scorned
to notice us and indifferently went its way. A horned owl now and then
hooted and bade us begone, while a badger came out from his hole, but
hurried back when he saw or smelled who we were.
Now and again we caught marvelous sunset reflections on Lake Tahoe
through the trees, and on the eastern mountains was a peach glow more
soft and beautiful than the famous Alpen glow.
Soon the sun was gone, and then, as we rode through the' dark aisles
of the trees the stars came out and shone with dazzling splendor
overhead. Just as we left the ranger's cabin a long dark corridor of
majestic trees framed in a patch of black velvet in the upper sky, and
there, in the very center, shining in resplendent glory, was Venus,
the evening star.
The wind began to blow a regular cyclone from the north, so the
roaring of the trees told us, but we were largely sheltered, and as we
looked up through the dancing and whirling tree-tops there was not a
cloud in the sky.
Thus we returned to the Tavern, dramatically and gloriously bringing
our delightful and easy trip to an end.
I have been rather prolix, and have entered much more fully into
detail than some may deem necessary in the account of this trip, for
two important reasons. It is a trip that none should fail to take, and
I have made it a sort of general account, giving in broad outline what
the visitor may expect of any of the peak trips in the vicinity of
Tahoe Tavern. It goes without saying that, constantly, from a score or
more outlook points, the eye finds its resting place upon Lake Tahoe,
each view being different and more charming than the one that preceded
* * * * *
TO SQUAW VALLEY, GRANITE CHIEF PEAK, FIVE LAKES AND DEER PARK SPRINGS
Leaving Tahoe Tavern we cross the Truckee River and ride down on the
north side. The flowing Truckee is placid and smooth, save where eager
trout jump and splash. The meadows are richly green and the mountain
slope on the further side is radiant with virgin tree-life in joyous
exuberance. Jays are harshly calling, chipmunks are excitedly running,
the pure blue of the sky over-arches all, the wine of the morning is
in the air, and we are glad we are alive. A spring of pure cold water
on the right, about a mile out, tempts us to a delicious morning
A little further down is "Pap." Church's "Devil's Playground,"
"Devil's Post," and devil's this, that and the other, out of which
he gained considerable satisfaction while driving stage-coach between
Truckee and Tahoe in the days before the railroad.
It is well carefully to observe these singular lava puddingstone
masses, for, according to the theory of John Le Conte, the eminent
physicist, recounted in another chapter, these were the restraining
masses that made the Lake at one time eighty or a hundred feet higher
than it is to-day.
Four miles from the Tavern we pass Engineer Von Schmidt's old dam, for
the history of which see the chapter on "The Truckee River."
Near Deer Park Station is another spring on the right. In the old
stage days "Pap." Church always stopped here and gave his passengers
the opportunity to drink of the water, while he made discourse as to
its remarkable coldness. Five years ago a land slide completely buried
it, and the road had to be cut through again. Ever since the spring
has been partially clogged and does not flow freely, but it is cold
enough to make one's teeth ache.
In the winter of 1881-2 a land-and-snow-slide occurred a little beyond
Deer Park Station. Watson was carrying the mail on snow-shoes at the
time and saw it. There had been a five foot fall of snow in early
March, and a week or two later came a second fall of seven feet.
Something started the mass, and down it came, rushing completely
across the river and damming it up, high on the other side, and the
course of the slide can clearly be seen to-day. It is now, however,
almost covered with recent growth of chaparral, and thus contributed
to one of the most beautiful effects of light and shade I ever saw.
The mountain slope on one side was completely covered with a growth of
perfect trees. Through these came pencillings of light from the rising
sun, casting alternate rulings of light and shadow in parallel lines
on the glossy surface of the chaparral beyond. The effect was enhanced
by the fleecy and sunshiny clouds floating in the cobalt blue above.
Near the mouth of Bear Creek the river makes a slight curve and also
a drop at the same time, and the road, making a slight rise, presents
the view of a beautiful stretch of roaring and foaming cascades.
Here the canyon walls are of bare, rocky ridges, of white and red
barrenness, with occasional patches of timber, but very different from
the tree-clad slopes that we have enjoyed hitherto all the way down
from the Tavern.
Beyond is a little grove of quaking aspens. Their leaves, quivering
in the morning breeze, attract the eye. Crossing the railway, the road
makes a climb up a hill that at one time may have formed a natural dam
across the river. Here is a scarred tree on the left where Handsome
Jack ran his stage off the bank in 1875, breaking his leg and
seriously injuring his passengers.
Crossing the next bridge to the left at the mouth of Squaw Creek, six
miles from the Tavern, on a small flat by the side of the river is
the site of the town of Claraville, one of the reminders of the Squaw
Valley mining excitement.
Just below this bridge is an old log chute, and a dam in the river.
This dam backed up the water and made a "cushion" into which the logs
came dashing and splashing, down from the mountain heights above. They
were then floated down the river to the sawmill at Truckee.
At Knoxville we forded the river at a point where a giant split
bowlder made a tunnel and the water dashed through with roaring speed.
Retracing our steps for a mile or so we came to the Wigwam Inn, a
wayside resort and store just at the entrance to Squaw Valley. To the
right flows Squaw Creek, alongside of which is the bed of the logging
railway belonging to the Truckee Lumber Co. It was abandoned two or
three years ago, when all the available logs of the region had been
cut. Most of the timber-land between Squaw Creek and Truckee, on both
sides of the river, was purchased years ago, from its locators, by the
Truckee Lumber Company. But Scott Bros., purchased a hundred and
sixty acres from the locators and established a dairy in Squaw Valley,
supplying the logging-camps with milk and butter for many years past.
For forty years or more this region has been the scene of active
logging, the work having begun under the direction of Messrs.
Bricknell and Kinger, of Forest Hill. The present president of the
Truckee Lumber Co. is Mr. Hazlett, who married the daughter of
Kinger. This company, after the railway removed from Glenbrook and was
established between Tahoe and Truckee, lumbered along the west side of
Tahoe as far as Ward Creek.
Entering the valley we find it free from willows, open and clear. The
upper end is surrounded, amphitheater fashion, by majestic mountains,
rising to a height of upwards of 9000 feet. Clothed with sage-brush at
the lower end and rich grass further up, even to the very base of the
mountains, it is, in some respects, the prettiest valley in the whole
of this part of the Sierra Nevadas.
The upper meadows are full of milk cows, quietly grazing or lying down
and chewing their cuds, while just beyond the great dairy buildings
is the unpretentious cottage of the Forest Ranger. Remnants of old log
chutes remind one of the logging activities that used to be carried on
One of the most observable features of Squaw Valley is its level
character. This is discussed in the chapter on glacial action.
On the right the vein of quartz which out-crops at Knoxville is
visible in several places and the various dump-piles show how many
claimants worked on their locations in the hope of finding profitable
Half way up the valley is an Iron Spring, the oxydization from which
has gathered together a large amount of red which the Indians still
prize highly and use for face paint.
How these suggestions excite the imagination--old logging chutes,
mining-claims and Indians. Once this valley rang with the clang of
chains on driven oxen, the sharp stroke of the ax as it bit into the
heart of the tree, the crash of the giant trees as they fell, the rude
snarl of the saw as it cut them up into logs, the shout of the driver
as he drove his horses alongside the chute and hurried the logs down
to the river, the quick blast of the imprisoned powder, the falling
of shattered rocks, the emptying of the ore or waste-bucket upon the
dump--all these sounds once echoed to and from these hillsides and
Now everything is as quiet and placid as a New England pastoral scene,
and only the towering mountains, snow-clad even as late as this in the
fall, suggest that we are in the far-away wilds of the great West.
But Squaw Valley had another epoch, which it was hoped would
materially and forever destroy its quiet and pastoral character. In
the earlier days of the California gold excitement the main road
from Truckee and Dormer Lake went into Nevada County and thus on to
Sacramento. In 1862 the supervisors of Placer County, urged on by the
merchants, sent up a gang of men from Placerville to build a road from
Squaw Valley, into the Little American Valley, down the Forest Hill
Divide, thus hoping to bring the emigrant travel to Forest Hill,
Michigan Bluff, and other parts of Placer County.
It was also argued that emigrants would be glad to take this new road
as all the pasture along the other road was "eaten off." Over this
historic road we are now about to ride.
As we look up it is a forbidding prospect. Only brave men and sanguine
would ever have dared to contemplate such a plan. The mountain cliffs,
separated and split, arise before us as impassable barriers. Yet one
branch of the old trail used to pass through the divide to the right,
over to Hopkins Springs, while the one that was converted into the
wagon road took the left-hand canyon to the main divide.
We now begin to ascend this road at the head of Squaw Valley, and in
five minutes, or less, are able to decide _why_ it was never a
success. The grade is frightful, and for an hour or more we go slowly
up it, stopping every few yards to give our horses breath. All the way
along we can trace the blazes on the trees made over sixty years
ago. It is hard enough for horses to go up this grade, but to
pull heavily-ladened wagons--it seems impossible that even those
giant-hearted men, used to seeing so many impossible things
accomplished, could ever have believed that such a road could be
feasible. What wonderful, marvelous, undaunted characters they must
have been, men with wills of inflexible steel, to overcome such
obstacles and dare such hardships. Yet there were compensations. Squaw
Creek's clear, pellucid, snow-fed stream runs purling, babbling or
roaring and foaming by to the right. These pioneers with their women
and children had crossed the sandy, alkali and waterless deserts.
For days and weeks they had not had water enough to keep their faces
clean, to wash the sand from their eyes. Now, though they had come
to a land of apparently unscalable mountains and impassable
rock-barriers, they had grass for the stock, and water,--delicious,
fresh, pure, refreshing water for themselves. I can imagine that when
they reached here they felt it was a new paradise, and that God was
especially smiling upon them, and to such men, with such feelings,
what could daunt, what prevent, what long stay their onward march.
As we ascend, the mountains on our right assume the form of artificial
parapets of almost white rock, outlined against the bluest of blue
skies. There is one gray peak ahead, tinged with green. The trail is
all washed away and our horses stumble and slide, slip and almost
fall over the barren and rough rocks, and the scattered bowlders, a
devastating cloud-burst could not wash away.
Here is a spring on the left, hidden in a grove of alders and willows,
and now new and more fantastic spires arise on the right. Higher up we
see where those sturdy road-builders rolled giant rocks out of their
way to make an impassable road look as if it could be traversed.
Reaching the point at the foot of Squaw Peak at last we look back over
Squaw Valley. In the late summer tints it is beautiful, but what must
it be in the full flush of its summer glory and perfection? Then
it must be a delight to the eye and a refreshment to the soul. How
interesting, too, it is to rehabilitate it as a great glacial lake.
One can see its pellucid waters of clear amethystine blue and imagine
the scenes that transpired when the ancestors of the present Indians
fished, in rude dugouts, or on logs, or extemporized rafts, upon its
surface. Now it is covered with brown, yellowish grass, with tree-clad
slopes rising from the marge.
Turning to the right we find ourselves in a country of massive
bowlders. They seem to have been broken off from the summits above and
arrested here for future ages and movements to change or pass on.
The road grows severer than ever, and we cannot help again picturing
those old heroes driving their wagons up, while the women and children
toiled painfully on foot up the steep and rocky slopes. Could anything
ever daunt them after this? any obstacle, however insurmountable,
discourage them? any labor, however severe, compel them to turn back?
Though there is a deep pathos in all these memories, the heroism of it
makes our blood tingle with pride that such men and women belonged to
us, that we are privileged to live in the land their labors, loves and
lives have sanctified.
We turn to the right; a tiny waterfall, which in the season must be
quite a sight, trickles down near by; we are now advancing directly
upon the serrated ridge of fantastic spires that have long accompanied
us. We now find those white-seeming pinnacles are of delicate pinks,
creams, blues, slates and grays. In one place, however, it seems for
all the world as if there were a miniature Gothic chapel built of
dark, brownish-black lava. Another small patch of the same color and
material, lower down, presents a gable end, with windows, reminding us
of the popular picture of Melrose Abbey in the moonlight.
Now we are lined on either side by removed bowlders, but the road! ah
the road! who could ever have traveled over it? Trees twenty feet high
have now grown up in the roadway. To the left Squaw Peak (8960 feet)
towers above us, while we make the last great pull through the rocky
portion ere we come to the easier rise to the shoulders of Granite
Chief. Here the road was graded out from the side of a granite
mountain, blasted out and built up, but it is now sadly washed out.
Further up, a broad porphyritic dyke crosses our path, then more
trees, and we come to the gentle slope of a kind of granitic sand
which composes the open space leading to the pass between Granite
Chief on the right, and a peculiar battlemented rock, locally known
as Fort Sumpter, on the left. This was named by the Squaw Valley
stampeders who came over the trail in the early days of the Civil War,
when all patriots and others were excited to the core at the news that
Fort Sumpter had been fired upon. On one of the highest points stands
a juniper on which a big blaze was cut by the early road-makers, so
that there need be no doubt as to which way the road turned. Other
nearby trees, in their wild ruggedness and sturdy growth, remind us
of a woman whose skirts are blown about by a fierce wind. Their
appearance speaks of storms braved, battles of wind and snow and ice
and cold fought and won, for they have neither branch nor leaf on the
exposed side, and on the other are pitiably scant.
As we cross the sandy divide, over which a wagon could drive anywhere,
we find white sage in abundance. Expansive vistas loom before us,
ahead and to the right, while Squaw Peak now presents the appearance
of a vast sky-line crater. We seem to be standing on the inside of it,
but on the side where the wall has disappeared. Across, the peak has a
circular, palisaded appearance, and the lower peaks to the right seem
as if they were the continuation of the wall, making a vast crater
several miles in diameter. The plateau upon which we stand seems as
if it might have been a level spot almost near the center of the bowl.
Fort Sumpter is a part of this great crater-like wall and Granite
Chief is the end of the ridge.
As a rule there is a giant bank of snow on the saddle over which the
trail goes between Ft. Sumpter and Granite Chief, but this year (1913)
it has totally disappeared. It has been the driest season known for
Looking back towards the Lake a glorious and expansive view is
presented. Watson Peak, Mt. Rose, Marlette Peak, Glenbrook and the
pass behind it, are all in sight and the Lake glistening in pearly
At the end of the Squaw Peak ridge, on the right, is a mass of
andesite, looking like rude cordwood, and just above is a mass of
breccia very similar to that found in the Truckee Valley a few miles
below Tahoe Tavern.
Below us, at the head of Squaw Creek is a small blue pond, scarcely
large and important enough to be called a lake, yet a distinctive
feature and one that would be highly prized in a less-favored
On the very summit of the ridge we get fine views of Mounts Ralston,
Richardson, Pyramid Peak and the whole Rock Bound Range, while close
at hand to the north is Needle Peak (8920 feet), and to the south,
Mt. Mildred (8400 feet). To our left is Fort Sumpter, to the right the
Granite Chief, and between the two a stiff breeze is blowing.
Have you ever stood on a mountain ridge or divide when a fierce gale
was blowing, so that you were unable to walk without staggering, and
where it was hard to get your breath, much less speak, and where it
seemed as if Nature herself had set herself the purpose of cleansing
you through and through with her sweetening pneumatic processes? If
not, you have missed one of the blessed influences of life.
Rough? harsh? severe? Of course, but what of that, compared with the
blessings that result. It is things like that that teach one to
love Nature. Read John Muir's account--in his _Mountains of
California_--and see how he reveled in wind-storms, and even
climbed into a tree and clung to its top "like a bobolink on a reed"
in order to enjoy a storm to the full.
Immediately at our feet lie the various mazes of canyons and ravines
that make the diverse forks of the American River. In one place is
a forbidding El Capitan, while in another we can clearly follow for
miles the Royal Gorge of this many branched Sierran river. To the
right is Castle Peak (9139 feet) to the north and west of Donner Lake,
while nearby is Tinker's Knob (9020 feet) leading the eye down to
Hopkins' Soda Springs. Beyond is Donner Peak (8135 feet) pointing
out the location of Summit Valley, just to the left (west) where the
trains of the Southern Pacific send up their smoke-puffs and clouds
into the air.
At our feet is the Little American Valley, in which is the road, up
the eastern portion of which we have so toilsomely climbed. With a
little pointing out it is possible to follow the route it followed on
the balance of its steep and perilous way. Crossing the valley beneath
it zig-zagged over the bluff to the right, through the timber to the
ridge between the North and Middle Forks, then down, down, by Last
Chance to Michigan Bluff. The reverent man instinctively thanks God
that he is not compelled to drive a wagon, containing his household
goods, as well as his wife and children, over such roads nowadays.
Just before making the descent we succeed in getting a suggestive
glimpse of what is finely revealed on a clear day. Slightly to the
south of west is Mount Diablo, while northwards the Marysville Buttes,
Lassen's rugged butte, and even stately Mt. Shasta are in distinct
sight. At this time the atmosphere is smoky with forest fires and the
burning of the tules in the Sacramento and other interior valleys,
hence our view is not a clear one.
It did not take us long to reach the old stage-station in the Little
American Valley. Here Greek George--he was never known by any other
name--had a station, only the charred logs remaining to tell of some
irreverent sheep-herder or Indian who had no regard for historic
landmarks. The pile of rocks which remain denote the presence of
the chimney. When the new stage-road was built and travel over this
road--always very slim and precarious--completely declined, Greek
George removed, but his log hotel and bunk-house remained until a few
We lunch by the side of the old chimney and ruminate over the scenes
that may have transpired here in those early days.
On our way back we pass the stumps of two large firs which were
undoubtedly cut down to supply George's houses with shakes. At the
base of Ft. Sumpter we leave the trail down which we have come, with
the intention of going--without a trail--down Whisky Creek, over
several interesting meadows to Five Lake Creek, and thence up by the
Five Lakes, over the pass into Bear Creek Canyon, past Deer Park to
the Truckee River and thus to the Tavern.
With such an excellent guide as Bob Watson we have no hesitation in
striking out in any direction and in a short time Mt. Mildred (8400
feet) is on our right.
Great groves of willows and alders cover immense areas of the canyon's
sides, while we pass a giant red fir with a diameter of fully six
When about half a mile from Five Lake Creek the largest portion of
the canyon is taken up with irregular masses of granite over which a
glacier, or glaciers, have moved. The striation and markings are down
the valley, and looking up from below the canyon for a mile or more
it has the appearance of a series of irregular giant steps, each step
gradually sloping back to the step above. From above the course of
the glacier seems clear. It must have flowed downwards, polishing and
smoothing each step in turn, then falling over the twenty, thirty
or fifty feet high edge to the next lower level, to ascend the next
slope, reach the next precipice, and so on.
At the point where we strike Five Lake Creek, in a large expanse of
meadow, we pass a camp, where in the distance we can clearly see three
men and a woman. Deer hunters probably. We give them a cheery Halloo!
and pass on.
Five Lake Creek here makes a sharp bend into the canyon which is a
continuation of the canyon down which we have been traveling, and
enters the Rubicon River at Hell Hole. We, however, turn _up_
the Creek to the northeast, here striking the regular Hell Hole trail
built a few years ago by Miss Katherine Chandler, of Deer Park. Just
ahead of us, appearing through a grove of trees near to where the Five
Lakes are nestling, is a perfectly white cloud, absolutely startling
in the vividness of its contrast to the deep blue of the sky and the
equally deep green of the firs and pines.
A wilderness of bowlders compels the winding about of the trail, but
we hear and see Five Lake Creek, roaring and dashing along, for it
has a large flow of water and its course is steep and rocky. We pass
through groups of willows, wild currants and alders, enter a sparsely
wooded meadow and in a few moments see the first of the Five Lakes.
There is but little difference in their levels, though their sizes
vary considerably. The first one is the largest. Here is a log cabin
and two or three boats. These are owned by the Deer Park Springs
resort, and are for their fishing and hunting patrons. They also own a
hundred and sixty acres here, which include the area of the lake. The
two first or lower lakes are the largest and the deepest. It is their
flow which makes Five Lakes Creek. The three upper lakes are smaller
and shallower. It is said that a divide used to separate the two lower
from the three upper lakes, and the flow from the latter descended
through Bear Creek, past Deer Park, into the Truckee River and thence
into far-away Pyramid Lake in Nevada.
From this point the trail is clear and well defined, being traveled
constantly during the season by guests of Deer Park Springs. Passing
through a fine nursery of beautiful and exquisite red firs we drop
into the canyon of Bear Creek. To the left are great andesite crowns
on the mountain tops. Here also are more glacially polished masses and
cliffs of granite, clearly indicating great glacial activity in the
upper part of this canyon. The trail is ticklish in a few places, with
steps up and down which our horses take gingerly, but nothing which
need excite an extra heart-beat to one used to mountain trails.
In less than half an hour we are at Deer Park Springs, drinking its
pleasant waters, and while we still have six and a half miles to go
to the Tavern it is over easy and ordinary road, and therefore our
pleasant trip is practically at an end.
* * * * *
TO ELLIS PEAK
Homewood is the natural starting point for Ellis Peak (8745 feet) as
the trail practically leaves the Lake high-road at that point, and
strikes directly upon the mountain slope. Hundreds make the trip on
foot and it is by no means an arduous task, but many prefer to go
horse-back or burro-back. In its upward beginnings the trail follows
the course of an old logging chute for a distance of some two miles,
the lake terminus of which is now buried in a nursery of white fir and
masses of white lilac. There are a few cedars and pines left untouched
by the logger's ax, but they are not prime lumber trees, or not one of
them would now be standing.
To the right is Dick Madden Creek, which, like all the streams on the
eastern slopes of the great western escarpment of Lake Tahoe, comes
dashing and roaring down steep and rocky beds to the Lake.
When at about 7000 feet we find few other than red firs and mountain
pines. Here is a wonderful nursery of them that have secured a firm
hold upon life. Throughout the whole region the year 1913 seems to
have been a most kindly one for the untended, uncared for baby-trees.
There has been comparatively little snowfall for three successive
years, and this has given the young trees a chance. As soon as their
heads appear above the snow and they are not battered down by storm
they can make their way, but if the heavy snow falls and remains upon
them too long, they are either smothered, or so broken down, that life
becomes a fearful struggle and scores of them succumb. Yet in spite
of this fact hemlocks and red firs seem to prefer the north or shady
slopes of the mountains and invariably thrive much better there than
where there is sunnier exposure.
When about three miles up from the Lake we reach a richly-grassed
meadow, about five acres in extent, confined in a bowl-shaped rim,
broken down at the east side, through which a rivulet, which flows
across the meadow, finds outlet. This is undoubtedly one of the many
mountain lakes of the region, too shallow and with too sluggish a flow
of water into it to clear itself of the detritus washed down from the
disintegrating slopes above, hence it ultimately filled up and entered
upon a new life as a meadow.
On the upper side of the meadow the trail passes through a glorious
grove of hemlocks, the clean and clear "floor" of which leads one to
the observation that hemlocks generally seem to be hostile to other
and lesser growth coming in to occupy the ground with them.
Sierran heather of purple color now appears here and there in patches
and we find quantities of it further along. There are also several
peculiar puff-balls, and close by a remarkable fungus-growth like a
cauliflower, fully a foot in diameter.
Nearing the summit we come to another meadow followed by another
grove, where scarcely any trees but hemlocks are to be seen. Here
also we see great beds of the California primrose which grows with a
straight upright stem crowned with blood-red or deep scarlet flowers
above a rich duster of leaves. These flowers generally can be found
blooming quite late in the season, following the snowline as the
summer's sun makes it climb higher each day. When the winter's snows
have been extra heavy the plants are covered and no flowers appear, as
the snow melts too late, but when there is a lesser amount they bloom
as freely as ever, apparently none the worse for their dormant period.
Over the peak billowy white clouds are tossing, like giant cradles
built of the daintiest and most silvery cloud-stuff to be found in the
heavens for the rocking of the cloud-babies to sleep.
On a sister peak to Ellis Peak, just to the south, is to be seen
a remarkable and strikingly picturesque cluster of hemlocks. It
is almost circular in form, with eight trees in the center, and
twenty-three on the outer rim, which is over a hundred feet in
circumference. Seldom does one see so interesting a group of trees
anywhere, even when planted, and these, of course, are of native
The summit itself is of broken and shattered granite, which has
allowed a scraggly mountain pine to take root and grow close to the
U.S. Geological Survey monument. A fierce gale was blowing from the
west, and turning toward the tree-clad slopes of the east, we stood
in the wind, with the everlasting blue above and the glorious and
never-failing green beneath. Unconsciously there sprang to my lips
Joaquin Miller's lines:
And ever and ever His boundless blue,
And ever and ever His green, green sod,
And ever and ever between the two
Walk the wonderful winds of God.
Braving the wind and looking over the steep precipice to the west we
see, some four hundred or five hundred feet below us, so that it seems
that we might almost throw a stone into it, a small lake. This is
Bessie Lake, named after Mrs. C.F. Kohl, of Idlewyld. It discharges
its surplus waters into Blackwood Creek, and has several times been
stocked with fish. In the mid-distance is Loon Lake, which is the
head-waters of the California Ditch, which follows over the Georgetown
Divide, carries water some forty to fifty miles, and is distributed
by its owners, the Reno Water and Electric Power Co., for mining,
irrigation and domestic purposes.
East of Loon Lake are Spider and Pleasant Lakes, all of which we
are told are connected with one another and controlled by the same
company. Another lake, Bixly or Bixby, slightly to the north of
Pleasant, is also connected.
To the east of Pleasant Lake, Buck Island and Rock Bound Lakes were
dazzlingly brilliant in the mid-day sun.
One has but to look at the map to realize what a comprehensive survey
is possible in every direction from Ellis Peak. There is no wonder
that it is so popular. The panorama is unobstructed--the outlook
practically complete and perfect. Though the whole of the Lake is not
revealed, there is sufficient of it to make a transcendent picture.
Every peak to the north and on the eastern side is in sight, while the
Tallac range, and the near-by mountains make one long for an aeroplane
that he might step from peak to peak without the effort of journeying
by land to their elevated summits.
On the left side of Tinker's Knob is a peak, unmarked on the map, to
which the name of Lion Peak has been given, for the following reason:
Some years ago former Governor Stanford's nephew, who has been a
visitor for many years at Hopkins' Spring, was climbing, together with
a companion, over this peak, when they came to a cave. Lighting a rude
torch they thoughtlessly entered it and had barely got well inside
before they saw the two fierce eyes of a mountain lion glaring at
them. Surprised and startled, they were about to turn and run, when
the astonished animal sprang past them and disappeared before they
recollected they had a gun.
It should not be overlooked that Ellis Peak is the most eastern
mountain of the Sierran divide. East, its drainage empties into Lake
Tahoe and thus eastward into the Big Basin; west, into the Rubicon,
thence to the American, the Sacramento and finally out by the Golden
Gate to the Pacific.
To the west of the Rubicon Peaks is a chain of lakes in the valley
below known as the Rock Bound Lakes. There are nine of these in all,
though several of them are practically unknown except to the few
guides and the sheepmen who range over the surrounding mountains.
As far as the eye can see, westward, there are distinct glacial
markings, a wonderful revelation of the widespread and far-reaching
activity of these glaciers borne on the highest crests of the Sierras.
The canyon in which the Rubicon River flows is definitely outlined, as
is also the deep chasm known as Hell Hole. Near by is Bear Lake, about
the same size and appearance as Watson Lake, its overflow emptying
into the Rubicon.
Close at hand to the north and west are Barker's Peak, Barker's Pass,
and Barker's Creek, and these decide us to go home by way of Barker's
Pass instead of the way we came. Accordingly we drop down, returning
a short distance to the south, over the western slope of Ellis Peak to
Ellis Valley. Both peak and valley receive their name from Jock Ellis,
a Squaw Valley stay-behind, who entered the cattle and sheep business,
and pastured his animals in this rich and well-watered region.
On our way we pass through the most remarkable white fir nursery we
have yet seen. Not far away were a few hoary monarchs from the still
hanging but burst open cones of which winged seeds were flying before
the breeze. These potential firs were carried in many cases over a
mile before they found lodgement. It was a beautiful and delightful
demonstration of Nature's lavish method of preserving this useful
species of tree alive.
Sweeping now to the north and east we make a rapid descent of some six
hundred or seven hundred feet to Barker's Pass, the elevation of which
is about 7000 to 7500 feet, the nearby Peak having an elevation of
about 8500 feet. It is a round, bare mountain, and seems as if it
ought to be marked higher (on the map) than it is.
Rapidly dropping we come to a peculiar mass of stratified rock,
acutely tilted, unlike any found elsewhere in the region except
on Five Lake Creek on the way to Hell Hole. Just before reaching
Blackwood's Creek the trail passes through rude piles of breccia
similar to that of the Devil's Playground near the Truckee River. It
may be perfectly possible that one of the volcanic flows that covered
large portions of the High Sierras, after the Cretaceous degradations
had taken place, came from a vent, or volcano, near by, and slowly
flowed down Blackwood Creek, leaving vast masses behind which have
rapidly disintegrated until these are all that remain.
These conjectures occupy our brain until we reach the Lake again,
alongside of which the road soon brings us back to our starting point,
after another most enjoyable, instructive, healthful and delightful
The foregoing are but samples of a hundred similar trail trips that
can be taken from every part of the Lake, and from all the resorts.
Each place has its chosen trips, and though, of course, there are many
points of similarity, there are enough individualities to make each
My friends often ask me what food and drink I take along on such
hiking or riding trips. Generally the hotel provides a luncheon, but
personally, I prefer a few Grant's crackers (a thick, hard cracker
full of sweet nutriment, made at Berkeley, Calif.), a handful of
shelled nuts--walnuts, pecans, or almonds, a small bottle of Horlick's
Malted Milk tablets, a few slabs of Ghirardelli's milk chocolate, and
an apple or an orange. On this food I can ride or walk _days at a
time_, without anything else. Grant's crackers, Horlick's Malted
Milk tablets, and Ghirardelli's chocolate are the best of their kind,
and all are nutritious to the full, as well as delicious to the
taste. For drink I find Horlick's Malted Milk the most comforting and
invigorating, and it has none of the after "letting-down" effects that
accompany coffee drinking.
CAMPING-OUT TRIPS IN THE TAHOE REGION
There are many trips in the Tahoe Region which can be made, with
greater or lesser ease, on foot or horseback, in one day, so that one
can sleep in his hotel each night. On the other hand there are some
highly desirable trips that can be taken only by camping-out, and
to these I wish to commend those of my readers of both sexes who
are strong enough to care for such intimate contact with God's
To me one of Life's greatest delights, appealing alike to body, mind
and soul, is a camping-out trip. Breathing day and night the pure air
of mountain and forest,--occasionally swept by breezes from desert and
ocean,--exercising one's body into vigorous healthfulness, sweating
in the sun with life-giving labor,--even though it be only tramping
or riding up and down trails,--sauntering over meadows, rambling and
exploring untrailed spaces, under giant sky-piercing trees; lying down
at night on the restful brown Mother Earth; sleeping peacefully and
dreamlessly through delicious star-and-moon-lit nights, cooled and
refreshed by the night winds, awakening in the morning full of new
life and vigor, to feel the fresh tang of the air and the cool
shock of the wash (or even plunge) in the snow-or-spring-fed stream;
companioning with birds and bees, chipmunks and squirrels, grouse and
quail, deer and antelope, trees and plants, shrubs and flowers, lava
and granite, lakes and creeks, rivers and ponds; smelling the sweet
fragrance of the trees, shrubs, plants and vines; bathing in an
atmosphere of calm and quiet that seems almost Divine; covered with
a sky as cloudless and pure blue as the dome of heaven itself, and
which, at night, changes into a rich blue-black velvet, studded with
silvery emblazonments, that dance and dazzle in the pellucid air;
listening to the varied voices of Nature, each eager to give tongue
to its joy; eating healthful, simple food with appetite and relish;
absorbing the assurance that Nature means good and nothing but good to
man, thus coming nearer to the heart of God; losing the fret and
worry of money-getting and all other of Life's lower ambitions and
strivings; feeling the inflow of strength,--physical, mental and
spiritual; gaining calmness, serenity, poise and power;--is there any
wonder that a man so blessed should speak and write with radiant and
exuberant enthusiasm of that which has been so lavish to him. This is
what camping-out (in part) means to me.
Hence, when I leave home for a mountain trip I always put into my
_Indestructo_ an extra blue flannel shirt, riding boots and
breeches (or a pair of overalls), a cap, and a bottle of Vaseline. The
hunter and fisherman, of course, will bring his especial equipment,
as, also, will the geologist or botanist.
The first essentials of a successful camping-out trip are personal.
One must have the receptive and acceptive spirit. No matter what
comes it is for the best; an experience worth having. Nothing must be
complained of. The "grouch" has no place on a camping-trip, and one
who is a "grouch," a "sissy," a "faultfinder," a "worrier," a
"quitter," or who cannot or will not enter fully into the spirit of
the thing had better stay at home.
[Footnote 1: _Indestructo_ is the name given to a trunk that has
been such a delight to me for its enduring and useful qualities, that
I cannot refrain from "passing it on." A poor trunk, to a constant
traveler, is a perpetual nuisance and worry. My trunks always gave
me trouble until I got an _Indestructo_. Since then I have had
freedom from all such distress. It is fully insured for five years.]
If experiences are met with that are disagreeable, meet them as a man
should; a woman always does,--or always has on trips taken with me.
The "self-pitier," the "self-indulgent," the "fearful" also had better
stay at home.
The next essentials are a good guide--such as is suggested by the
Dedication of this book--and good saddle-and-pack-animals, good
bedding, good food and the proper season. Then if the spot you have
chosen contains anything worth while, you cannot fail to have an
enjoyable, interesting, educative, health-giving and generally
In outfitting for such a trip always put into your pocket (and in the
pack a reserve supply) a few Grant's crackers, a handful of Horlick's
Malted Milk tablets, and a cake of Ghirardelli's chocolate. With
these you are safe for a whole day or two, or more, if anything should
happen to separate you from your pack animal, or you should desire to
ride on without stopping to prepare a noon, or later, camp meal.
The Tahoe Region offers scores of just such trips, where for one or
two months each year for a dozen years a visitor may camp-out in some
new region. For instance, every student of God's handiwork should go
up to Deer Park, camp-out at Five Lakes, and study the evidences of
lava flows at the head of Bear Creek. Go to the Lake of the Woods and
spend a week there, tracing the glacial movements that made Desolation
Valley. Take such a trip as I enjoyed to Hell Hole on the Rubicon,
but take more time for it than I could give; cross the range to the
Yosemite, and thus link the two sublimest parts of the Sierras in
your memory; follow the old trails that used to echo to the voices of
pioneers from Michigan Bluff, Last Chance, Hayden Hill, etc.; go out
with one of the Forest Rangers and get a glimpse into his wonderful
life of activity, independence and solitude. Thus you will come in
contact with larger conceptions, fuller ideas, deeper sympathies,
higher aspirations than is possible where you follow the ordinary
routine of the ordinary, mediocre, self-contented man. Thank God for
the spark of discontent, of ambition, of aspiration, of desire to
see beyond, to know more, to climb higher, to solve the mysteries, to
abolish the unknown.
Then, if you dare the perils and joys of winter, get Bob Watson,
or some other expert on snow-shoes to go with you over Tahoe's wild
wastes of snow. Emulate Snow-shoe Thompson, a short sketch of
whose life and adventures will be found in my book, _Heroes of
California_, and henceforth the days and nights of spring, summer,
fall and winter will never seem quite the same to you.
Merely as a sample, the balance of this chapter is devoted to the trip
made in the fall of 1913 with Watson from Tahoe Tavern.
* * * * *
TO HELLHOLE AND THE RUBICON RIVER
I certainly think I can conjecture with accuracy the way it received
its name. The trails in and out were first made and used by the wild
animals--bear, deer, antelope, mountain lions, etc., then by the first
Americans--the Indians, and at last, by the white man. Undoubtedly the
first whites to come over the trails were miners from the Georgetown
and Placerville districts, lured by the marvelous discoveries of the
Comstock lode in Virginia City. Then in 1862-3 came the Squaw Valley
stampede and this "strike" being so much nearer than the Comstock
naturally attracted much attention, especially as the California mines
of the Sierra Nevada were becoming less profitable. One of these old
miners, whose language was more luridly picturesque than refined, on
coming into the region or going out of it,--when he struck the rough,
rugged, uncertain, rocky, and exceedingly steep grade, must have
called it a "hell of a hole" to get into or out of, and in future
references the name stuck until, at last, it was passed down to future
ages on the maps of the U.S. Geological Survey as the true and correct
[Illustration: Angora Lake, near Lake Tahoe, Calif.]
[Illustration: GLENBROOK ON THE NEVADA SIDE OF LAKE TAHOE]
[Illustration: THE STEAMER _TAHOE_, AT THE WHARF, JUST BEFORE
STARTING AROUND THE LAKE]
But if the reader thinks the name in the slightest degree
characteristic of the place itself he never made a greater blunder.
Instead, it is a paradise of delightful surprises. A large, fairly
level area--hundreds of acres at least--through which runs the clear
and pellucid waters of the Rubicon River on their way to join those of
the American, and dotted all over with giant cedars, pines, firs and
live oaks, with tiny secluded meadows, lush with richest grasses,
it is a place to lure the city-dweller for a long and profitable
vacation. Whether he hunts, fishes, botanizes, geologizes or merely
loafs and invites his soul, it is equally fascinating, and he is
a wise man who breaks loose from "Society"--spelled with either a
capital or small letter--the bank, the office, the counting-house,
the store, the warehouse, the mill, or the factory, and, with a genial
companion or two, buries himself away from the outer world in this
restful, peaceful, and God-blessed solitude.
When I first saw it I exclaimed: "Hell Hole? Then give me more of it,"
and instead of hastening on to other places of well-known charm,
I insisted upon one day at least of complete rest to allow its
perfection to "seep in" and become a part of my intimate inner life of
It was under Bob Watson's efficient guidance I left Tahoe Tavern, for
a five day trip. We took a pack-horse well laden with grub, utensils
for cooking and our sleeping bags. Riding down the Truckee, up Bear
Creek, past Deer Park Springs, I was struck more forcibly than ever
before by the marvelous glacial phenomena in the amphitheater at the
head of the canyon through a portion of which the trail passes, and
also with the volcanic masses that rest upon the granite, mainly on
the right hand side of the pass. Its first appearance shows a cap
of from two hundred to three hundred feet in thickness; later on two
other patches of it appear, the upper one presenting the granite and
superposed granite on the same level, clearly indicating a channel of
early erosion filled up by the later flow of volcanic matter.
Passing by Five Lakes and down Five Lake Creek to its junction with
the canyon down which we had come from the Little American Valley, we
were soon headed down the creek for the Rubicon. To the right towered
Mt. Mildred (8400 feet), on the other side of which is Shank's Cove.
Shank was a sheep-man who for years ran his sheep here during the
summer, taking them down to the Sacramento Valley in winter. After
passing several grassy meadows, cottonwood groves, and alder thickets
we reached Bear Pen Creek, a rocky, bone-dry crossing, nine miles from
the divide. To the left, Powder Horn Creek comes in, which heads on
the northwestern slope of the ridge, on which, on the southern side,
Barker Creek has its rise. It received this peculiar name from the
fact that General Phipps, from whom Phipps Peak is named, was once
chasing a bear, when suddenly the infuriated animal turned upon him,
made a savage strike at him with his paw and succeeded in knocking the
bottom out of his old-fashioned powder-horn.
Further down we came suddenly upon a hawk who had just captured a
grouse, and taken off his head. As the bird dropped his prey on our
approach we took it as a gift of the gods, and next morning, with two
or three quail, it made an excellent breakfast for us.
Nearing the descent into Hell Hole we gained striking glimpses of a
great glacially-formed valley in the mountains on the farther side,
while a ridge to our left revealed a cap of volcanic rock apparently
of columnar structure and extending from the eastern end half way the
length of the ridge.
Watson assured me that here he has found herds of sixteen and nineteen
deer, on separate occasions. They seem to follow, in the early spring,
the line of the melting snow. At this time they are tame and fearless,
and will stand and look at you with surprise and impatience. They
seldom run away. On one occasion he came upon a doe and two fawns
not far from the brink or ridge of Hell Hole. He was close upon
them before he was aware, but stopped suddenly. The doe saw him, but
instead of turning to flee she stood and impatiently stamped her
foot several times. Then as he seemed to pay no attention and to
be harmless, she and her young began to graze again, and shortly
Before long we arrived at what may be called the "jumping-off place."
In reality it is a steep descent into the depths of a wide canyon,
but earth has so lodged in the rocky slopes that they are covered with
dense growths of trees and chaparral, so that it is impossible to
see very far ahead. Down, down, down we went, winding and twisting,
curving around and dodging, but getting deeper with every zig-zag
until almost as suddenly as we began the steep descent we found
ourselves on a fairly level platform. Hell Hole was reached.
The day spent here was a delightful one. While Watson fished I wrote,
loafed, rambled about, studied the rock formations, and wished for a
week or more instead of a day.
Next morning we struck into the canyon of the Rubicon River, for Soda
Spring, half a mile away, where salt and soda exude in such
quantities as to whiten the rocks. Here the deer, bear, grouse, quail,
ground-hogs, and other creatures come for salt. Indeed, this is a
natural "salt lick," and there are eight or ten piles of rock, behind
which Indian and white hunters used to watch for the coming of the
game they desired to kill. Twenty years ago one could get game here
practically every day. The Washoes used to descend the western slope
as far as this; the men for deer, the women for acorns, though they
had to be on the alert as the Sierra Indians resented their intrusion.
Right and left as we rode on there were great "islands" of granite,
fifty to one hundred feet high, masses that either had been hurled
from the heights above in some cataclysm, or planed to their present
shape by long-forgotten glaciers. These granite masses alternate with
flower and shrub-bestrewed meadows that once were glacial lakes.
At times we found ourselves in a dense forest where the trees were
ancient monarchs, whose solitudes had never been disturbed by stroke
of ax, or grate of saw. Clumps of dogwood and chaparral of a dozen
kinds confuse the tyro, and he loses all sense of direction. Only the
instinct that makes a real mountain and forest guide could enable
one successfully to navigate these overgrown wilds, for we were now
wandering up a region where trails had been abandoned for years. Here
and there, when we came to the rocky slopes "ducks" in confusing
variety were found but scarce a sign of a trail, and the "blazes"
on the trees were more confusing than if we had been left to our own
Yellow jackets' nests hung from many branches, and we were now and
then pestered by the flying creatures themselves. Then we had a good
laugh. Our pack-horse, Shoshone, got between two trees. His head could
pass but his pack couldn't, and there he stood struggling to pull
through. He couldn't do it, but stupidly he would not back up.
Talk about horse-sense! A burro would have backed up in a minute,
but most horses would struggle in such a place until they died.
[Footnote 2: _Ducks_ are small piles of stone so placed as to
denote the course of the trail.]
Near here there came into sight a granite ridge between the Rubicon
and Five Lake Creek. This grows higher until it becomes quite a
mountain, between Five Lake Creek and Barker Creek. On the right
McKinstry Peak (7918 feet) towered up, with its double top, leading
the eye along a ridge of red granite rock to Red Peak.
About three miles up the canyon we found a number of rocky basins in
the course of the Rubicon with water, eight, ten and more feet deep in
them, temptingly suggesting a plunge. I didn't need much tempting,
and as quickly as I could disrobe I had plunged in. What a cold,
invigorating shock it was. There's nothing like such a plunge for
thoroughly arousing one and sending the blood quickly coursing through
Nearby were great beds of brake-ferns, four and five feet high, groves
of immense alders, sugar pines, some of which were fully eight feet
through and the trunks of which were honeycombed with woodpecker
holes. I saw and heard several woodpeckers at work. They had red
top-knots, and the noise they made echoed through the woods more as if
a sledge hammer had struck the tree than the bill of a bird. How they
climb up the trunk of the trees, holding on in a mysterious fashion
and moving head up or down, as they desire, with jerky little pulls,
bobbing their heads as if emphasizing some remarks they were making to
And what ideal spots for camping-out we passed, shady trees, nearby
meadows, to give abundant feed for the horses, the pure waters of the
Rubicon close by, with scenery, trees, flowers, animals, birds--all
the glory of nature--surrounding one with objects of delight, interest
One large area was strewn with hundreds of thousands of the big
long cones of the sugar pine. When one wishes to pack and ship home
specimens of these and other cones, it is well to soak them in water.
They then close up and carry safely, opening up as before, as they dry
Then we passed some giant "wind falls," mainly spruces. The roots of
these monarchs of the forest had twined themselves around rocks of
every size and shape, some of them massive bowlders, but when the
storm came, the purchase, or leverage of the tall trees was so great
that these heavy rock-masses were pulled out of place and lifted up as
the trees crashed over to their fall.
Now we came to a stretch of perfect virgin forest. No ax, no saw, no
log chutes, no wagons, no dragging of logs, no sign of the hand of
man. Nature was the only woodsman, with her storms and winds, her
snows and rains, to soften the soil and uproot her growing sons and
daughters. There was confusion in places, even rude chaos, but in
and through and above it all a cleanness, a sweetness, a purity, a
grandeur, harmony, glory, beauty and majesty--all of which disappear
when destroying man comes upon the scene.
About five miles up, we left the Rubicon and struck up toward Barker
Creek. Here was another of the great, tempting granite basins, full of
clear cool water. We also passed patches of belated scarlet larkspur,
shooting stars, and glaring golden-rod.
Half a mile up we reached Barker Creek, now a bowlder-strewn arroyo
which aroused my covetousness to high degree. How I would love to
build, with my own hands, a cottage, bungalow or house of some kind
with these great bowlders, of varied sizes and colors, shapes and
Just above the junction of Barker Creek and the Rubicon is "Little
Hell Hole," a camping-place almost as famous as its larger namesake,
and noted for the fact that half a mile away is a small canyon full of
mineral springs--sulphur, iron, soda, magnesia, etc. Naturally it is a
"deer-lick," which makes it a Mecca during the open season to hunters.
The springs bubble up out of the bed of the stream, the water of which
is stained with the coloring matter. When the stream runs low so that
one can get to the springs he finds some of them as pleasant to the
taste as those of Rubicon and Glen Alpine.
As we got higher we left the spruces behind, and the junipers, covered
with berries, began to appear. Then we came to open spaces where the
wind began to sing in the tops of the pines.
About a mile up Barker Creek, Watson showed me the course of one of
his trails back to the Tavern. It ascends a formidable ridge and leads
quickly to Idlewyld, but we were bound for Rubicon Springs. The old
trail was inaccessible, but Mr. Colwell of the Springs had lately
marked out a new trail, so we took our chances on finding our way
somehow. Over windfalls, up and down and around rocky promontories,
we came to West Meadow Creek Wash, its rude bowlder-strewn course
striking directly across our path. Here we struck beds of brakes
nestling in the shade of giant trees. On the left side of the creek
where we were, we ran into dense clumps of wild-cherry which prevented
further progress. Scouting found us an outlet on the other side of
Barker Creek. The divide on the left towered up with rugged majesty,
reddish in color, and split into gigantic irregular terraces, the
taluses of which were all crowded with dense chaparral growths.
On this side the slopes were all more open, nothing but rugged
bowlders clinging on the bare surfaces.
How enjoyable was this forcing our way along through these solitary
wilderness places, so that I was really sorry when we finally dropped
over a forested slope into the Rubicon Springs and McKinney's Road. A
mile away we found the hotel, with Mr. and Mrs. Colwell. The buildings
are old but all nature is gloriously grand and beautiful.
Though cordially invited to stay overnight, we pushed on over the
Rubicon River, up the hill on part of the Georgetown road for a
mile and a half,--from which we had a fine view of Buck Island
Lake,--struck the trail for another mile and in the early afternoon
made camp at Rock Bound Lake. Here we rowed and swam, studied the
country from the nearby hills, and then slept the sleep of the
healthfully weary under the blue vault of heaven.
Though Rubicon Springs was not far away there was such an air of
quietude in this spot that we felt as if we were in one of Nature's
Returning to Rubicon we followed the road back to where we had struck
it the day before. The old trail from McKinney's used to come over the
divide from the east and strike the Rubicon near where we then stood,
pass by the Springs and then follow the river, but to avoid the steep
grades the road had to be constructed around by Buck Island Lake.
Those who ride into Rubicon Springs from McKinney's, just as they make
the last descent, have a wonderful view of Georgetown Mountain before
them. Its sloping side is glacially planed off at a steep angle, and
it reveals the vast extent the great ice field must have covered in
the days of glacial activity. Many bowlders near the Springs are very
strongly marked by glacial action.
About a mile from the Springs we came to a tree on which a "cut-off"
sign was placed. When the road was being constructed the builders
started a new grade at this point and after going for a mile or so
found it was so steep that it had to be abandoned and a lesser grade
found by going around.
From the summit we could clearly follow the course of the Little
Rubicon, and also secured an excellent view of the sharp point of
Rubicon Peak (9193 feet).
A stiff and cool breeze was blowing from the west so we were not sorry
to find shelter from the wind as we entered a wooded park, where the
song of the pines cheered us on our way. Soon we struck the road and
followed it until we came to the headwaters of Miller's Creek on the
right. Miller used to run sheep up in the meadows, which afford a
smooth grade for the road for some distance. There are many alders
here, which bear mute though powerful testimony, in the shape of their
gnarled and bent over ground-groveling trunks, of the heavy winters'
These meadows clearly were once glacial lakes, now filled up, and
Miller's Creek was the instrument of their destruction. Crossing the
last of the meadows we came to Burton's Pass, so called from H.D.
Burton, another Placerville pioneer who used to cut hay here, pack it
on mules to McKinney's, and then ship it across to Lakeside, where he
sold it for $80 to $100 a ton. We then passed McKinney's old cabin,
the place he built and occupied in 1863, before he went to live at the
Lake. Only a few fragments now remain, time and storms having nearly
completed the work of destruction.
Nearby was a beautiful lily pond, soon to be a meadow, and just beyond
this we stood on the actual divide between the Great Basin and the
Pacific. We were at the head of Phipps Creek, named on the map General
Creek, from General Phipps. At the mouth of the creek this pioneer
located on 160 acres, which, when he died about 1883, was sold to M.H.
de Young, of the _San Francisco Chronicle_. After holding it for
many years he sold it in turn to I. Hellman, the banker, who now uses
it as his summer estate, having built a fine residence upon it.
Near here we lunched at a sheep-herder's camp and heard an interesting
story of the relocation of an old mine that had helped create the
Squaw Valley excitement forty years before. Owing to new and improved
methods of extracting the precious metal it is now deemed that this
may soon develop into a paying property.
Returning to the road we passed Jock Ellis's cabin, in a similar state
of ruin to that of McKinney. Ellis Peak (8945 feet) is named after
him. He was a Squaw Valley stampeder. Nearby we saw the largest
tamarack I have yet found in the Sierras. It was fully five feet
through and fluted in an interesting and peculiar fashion.
From here we made a mile detour to visit Hank Richards Lake, a
beautiful crystal jewel in an incomparable wooded setting. Then
back to Phipps Creek, over a perfect jumble of granite bowlders and
tree-clad slopes until we finally struck the trail and followed it to
the Lake, and thence home to the Tavern.
The reader should observe that in this, as in the chapter on "Trail
Trips," only a sample is given of a score or more of similar trips.
His host at any of the hotels can suggest others equally interesting.
HISTORIC TAHOE TOWNS
There have been only three towns on the immediate banks of Lake Tahoe,
viz., Tahoe City, Glenbrook and Incline, though Knoxville was located
on the Truckee River only six miles away.
_Tahoe City_. Tahoe City was founded in 1864 at the collapse
of the Squaw Valley mining excitement, the story of which is fully
related in another chapter. Practically all its first inhabitants
were from the deserted town of Knoxville. They saw that the lumbering
industry was active and its permanence fully assured so long as
Virginia City, Gold Hill and other Nevada mining-camps remained
profitable. The forests around the Lake seemed inexhaustible, and
there was no need for them to go back to an uncertainty in the placer
mines of El Dorado County, when they were pretty sure to be able
to make a good living here. They, also, probably exercised a little
imagination and saw the possibilities of Lake Tahoe as a health and
pleasure resort. Its great beauty must have impressed them somewhat,
and the exploitation of these features may have occurred to them.
Anyhow, in 1864, the Bailey Hotel was erected, and, later, a man
named Hill erected the Grand Central. The Squaw Valley excitement had
attracted a number from the Nevada camps, and when these men returned
they took with them glowing accounts of the beauty of Lake Tahoe, and
of the fishing and hunting to be enjoyed there. Thus the Lake received
some of its earliest resort patronage. During lumbering days it was an
active, bustling place, being the nearest town to which the loggers,
drivers, tree-fellers, millmen and others could flee for their weekly
recreation and periodic carouses. Yet it must not be thought that the
town was wholly given over to roughness. Helen Hunt Jackson, a widely
traveled and observant woman of finest susceptibilities, says of the
Lake Tahoe House, which she visited in stage-coach days, that it was
"one of the very best in all California." It was the stopping-place of
the _elite_ who came to see and enjoy Tahoe, and until later
and more fashionable hotels were built around the Lake enjoyed great
As soon as the logging industry declined Tahoe City began to go down,
and only the fishing and tourist interests kept it alive.
When the railway was moved over from Glenbrook and the shops and yard
of the Transportation Company were established here it regained some
of its former activity and life, and is now the chief business center
on the Lake. It is the headquarters of the campers who come for
pleasure each year, and its store does a very large and thriving
business. New cottages are being erected and it is destined ere long
to be a stirring pleasure resort town, for, as the delights of Tahoe
become more widely known, every available piece of land will increase
in value and where there is now one summer home there will be a
_Glenbrook_. On the Nevada side of the Lake, Glenbrook used to be
one of the most active, busy, bustling towns in the west. It scarcely
seems credible to one who visits the quiet, placid resort of to-day
that when I first saw it, some thirty years ago, it had three or
four large sawmills in constant operation, day and night. It was then
regarded, and so designated in the _History of Nevada_, published
in 1881, as "the great lumber manufacturing town of the state."
The town was begun in 1860, the land being squatted upon by G.W.
Warren, N.E. Murdock, and R. Walton. In 1861 Captain A.W. Pray erected
a saw-mill, run by water-power, but as water sometimes failed, when
the demand for lumber increased, he changed to steam-power. He also
secured a thousand acres, much of it the finest timber land, from the
government, using in its purchase Sioux Scrip.
Up to 1862 the only way to travel from California to Carson and
Virginia City, south of Lake Tahoe, was by the Placerville road which
came by Bijou and Lakeside and then over the Kingsbury Grade, via
Friday's Station, afterward called Small's, by which latter name it
is still known on the maps of the U.S. Geological Survey. In 1862,
however, a new road was projected, branching off to the northwest
(the left) from Small's, and following the eastern shore of the Lake,
passed Zephyr Cove and Cave Rock to Glenbrook, thence by Spooner's
and down King's Canyon to Carson. This was called the Lake Bigler Toll
Road (notice the fact that "Tahoe" was then officially designated in
Nevada as "Bigler"), and was completed in 1863.
This demanded the opening of a better class of hotel for travelers
and others in Glenbrook, and in the same year the road was finished
Messrs. Winters and Colbath erected the "Glenbrook Hotel," which
finally came into the hands of Messrs. Yerington and Bliss, who,
later, were the builders of the railway, the owners of most of the
surrounding timberlands, and who had practical control of the major
portion of the lumber interests. But prior to this a lumber-mill was
built by J.H.F. Goff and George Morrill in the northern part of the
town. This did a good business, for even in those early days common
lumber was worth $25.00 per thousand feet, and clear lumber, $45.00.
The mill was soon destroyed by fire, but the site was bought by A.H.
Davis and Son, who erected a new mill, which they operated for a
while and then sold to Wells, Fargo & Co. It was not until 1873 that
Yerington & Bliss came to Glenbrook. They revolutionized the lumber
industry. While Captain Pray had long used a steam tug to raft logs
across Lake Tahoe, the lumber itself was hauled down to Carson and
Virginia City. Now, owning large areas of timberland, operating two
and then three saw-mills in Glenbrook, and several others in the
nearby mountains, Messrs. Yerington & Bliss sought easier means of
transportation for their merchandisable product. They constructed
dams and reservoirs, with V flumes in a number of places, making
them converge as near as possible at the Summit, some six miles from
Glenbrook. To this point they built a narrow gauge railway for the
purpose of transporting the millions of feet of lumber sawn at their
From Summit a large V flume was constructed down Clear Creek Canyon
into Carson City, and into this flume a constant stream of water was
poured from the reservoirs which carried upon its bosom another stream
of boards, timber, studding, joists and sheathing, the two streams
emptying simultaneously just outside of Carson City at a point on the
Virginia & Truckee railway, where the lumber was loaded and thence
shipped to its place of consumption.
That tremendous amounts of lumber were being manufactured is shown
by the fact that the official records of Douglas County, Nevada, for
1875, give 21,700,000 feet as the product for that year.
One department of the lumber business should not be overlooked in this
connection. As the timber disappeared from the mountain slopes nearest
Glenbrook, the operators were compelled to go further afield for their
logs. These were cut on the mountain slopes north, south, east and
west, and sent down the "chutes" into the Lake. Where the ground was
level great wagons, drawn by ten, sixteen, twenty oxen, hauled the
logs to the shore, where they were dumped into the water. Here they
were confined in "booms," consisting of a number of long, thin poles
fastened together at the ends with chains, which completely encircled
a "raft" of logs arranged in the form of a V. The raft was then
attached, by strong cables, to a steamer and towed to Glenbrook, where
the mills were so located that the logs were drawn up from the Lake
directly upon the saw-carriages. The size of some of the rafts may be
imagined when it is known that they yielded from 250,000 to 300,000
feet of lumber.
The principal vessel for this purpose at the time I first visited Lake
Tahoe in 1881 was an iron tug, called the _Meteor_. It was built
in 1876 at Wilmington, Delaware, by Harlan, Hollingsworth & Co., then
taken apart, shipped by rail to Carson City and hauled by teams to
Lake Tahoe. It was a propeller, eighty feet long and ten feet beam,
and cost $18,000.
The first store erected in Glenbrook was placed on piles over the
water. This was built in 1874, by J.A. Rigby and A. Childers. One
morning the latter partner disappeared, and it was surmised that he
had fallen into the water and was drowned. New partners were taken
into the firm, but in January, 1877, the store was burned, and it was
not re-erected on its original site.
When the lumber interests and the railway were removed Glenbrook
declined, until it was the most deserted looking place possible. Then
the sons of Mr. Bliss, one of whom was born there, cleared away all
the evidences of its former lumbering activities, built a handsome and
commodious modern hotel on the most scenic point, and re-established
the place as a choice resort on the Nevada shore, as described
_Incline_. It will be a source of interest, even to many who know
Lake Tahoe well, that there used to be a town named Incline on its
shores. In the curve of Crystal Bay, a few miles from where the scars
show where the water escaped from Marlette Lake flume, this town
was located in 1882. It was the source of supplies for the lumbering
interests of the Sierra Nevada Wood and Lumber Company, and received
its name from a sixteen-hundred feet incline up which lumber was
hauled. The incline was operated by an endless cable, somewhat after
the style of Mount Lowe, in Southern California, the car on one side
going up, and on the other coming down one trip, and _vice versa_
the next. The lumber thus raised was thrown into the flume, carried
therein around to Lake View, on the line of the Virginia and Truckee
railway, there loaded on cars and shipped to Carson and Virginia,
largely for use in the mines.
When the logging interests were active the place had quite a
population, had its own post-office and was an election precinct. When
the logging interests waned the town declined, and in 1898 the post
office was discontinued. Now nothing remains but the old incline,
grown up with weeds and chaparral. New towns are springing up at Al
Tahoe, Lakeside and Carnelian Bay which will soon demand a revision of
[Illustration: Lake Tahoe from Tahoe Tavern]
[Illustration: Steamer Tahoe Rounding Rubicon Point, Lake Tahoe]
[Illustration: McKinney's and Moana Villa, With Rubicon Peaks
in the Distance, Lake Tahoe]
[Illustration: Steamer Landing, McKinney's, Lake Tahoe]
BY STEAMER AROUND LAKE TAHOE
The ride around Lake Tahoe is one of varied delights, as the visitor
sees not only the Lake itself from every possible angle, but gains an
ever shifting panorama of country, and, more remarkable than all, he
rides directly over that wonderful kaleidoscope of changing color that
is a never-ceasing surprise and enchantment.
Tahoe Tavern is the starting point of the ride, the train conveying
the passenger directly to the wharf from which he takes the steamer.
Capt. Pomin is in control.
Not far from where this, the most beautiful and charming hotel of the
Lake is erected, there used to be a logging camp, noted as the place
from which the first ties were cut for that portion of the Central
Pacific Railroad lying east of the summit of the Sierras. A number of
beautiful private residences line the Lake for some distance, the area
having been portioned out in acre and half-acre lots. Chief of these
are the summer home of Professor W.T. Reid, for a time President of
the State University of California, and Idlewyld, the residence of Mr.
and Mrs. Frederick Kohl, of San Francisco.
One of the oldest villas of this portion of the Lake used to be owned
by Thomas McConnell, of Galt, and it was his daughter, Mary, who first
made the ascent of one of the peaks now known as Maggie's Peaks, as a
marble tablet placed there testifies.
In the mountains beyond are Ward's Peak (8665 feet) to the right, and
Twin Peak (8924) to the left, from the first of which heads Ward's
Creek, and the second Blackwood Creek, both entering the Lake two
miles or so apart. Just beyond Twin Peak are Barker's Peak (8000
feet), and nearer to the Lake, Ellis Peak (8745 feet), the waters from
the former making the South Fork of Blackwood Creek. Ellis Peak, being
easily reached by a good trail, is the common point of ascent from
Homewood, McKinney's, Tahoe Tavern and other resorts.
Six miles out from the Tavern, the first stop is made at Homewood, one
of the newer resorts.
Three and one-half to four miles further along is McKinney's, one of
the oldest, best known and well established resorts on Lake Tahoe. It
was founded by J.W. McKinney, who was first attracted to this region
by the Squaw Valley excitement. (See special chapter.) For a time in
1862-3 he sold lots on the townsite of Knoxville, then when the
bottom dropped out of the "boom" he returned to Georgetown, engaged in
mining, but returned to Tahoe in or about 1867, located on 160 acres
on the present site and in 1891-2, after having erected two or three
cottages, embarked fairly and fully in the resort business. For
several years his chief patronage came from the mining-camps, etc.,
of Nevada, Gold Hill, Virginia City, Dayton, Carson City, Genoa, etc.
They came by stage to Glenbrook and thence across the Lake, on the
small steamer that already was doing tourist business in summer and
hauling logs to the lumber mills in winter and spring. Thus this
resort gained its early renown.
The bottom of the Lake may be seen at a considerable depth near
McKinney's, and looks like a piece of mosaic work. The low conical
peak, back of McKinney's is about 1400 feet above the Lake and used to
be called by McKinney, Napoleon's Hat.
The next stop of the steamer is quite close to McKinney's, viz.,
Moana Villa, and a mile or so further on at Pomin's, the former an old
established resort, and the latter an entirely new one. After passing
Sugar Pine Point, Meek's Bay and Grecian Bay are entered. These two
shallow indentations along the shore line are places where the color
effects are more beautiful than anywhere else in the Lake, and vie
with the attractions of the shore in arresting the keen attention of
the traveler. Meek's Bay is three miles long, and, immediately ahead,
tower the five peaks of the Rubicon Range, some 3000 feet above
the Lake. Beyond, a thousand feet higher, is snow-crowned
Tallac,--_the_ mountain--as the Washoe Indians called it, the
dominating peak of the southwest end of the Lake.
Rubicon Point is the extension of the Rubicon Range and it falls
off abruptly into the deepest portion of the Lake. The result is a
marvelous shading off of the water from a rich sapphire to a deep
purple, while the shore on either side varies from a bright sparkling
blue to a blue so deep and rich as almost to be sombre. Well, indeed,
might Lake Tahoe be named "the Lake of ineffable blue." Here are
shades and gradations that to reproduce in textile fabrics would have
pricked a king's ambition, and made the dyers of the Tyrian purple of
old turn green with envy. Solomon in his wonderful temple never saw
such blue as God here has spread out as His free gift to all the eyes,
past, present and to come, and he who has not yet seen Tahoe has yet
much to learn of color glories, mysteries, melodies, symphonies and
Soon, Emerald Bay is entered. This is regarded by many as the rich
jewel of Lake Tahoe. The main body of the Bay is of the deep blue
our eyes have already become accustomed to, but the shore-line is
a wonderful combination of jade and emerald, that dances and
scintillates as the breeze plays with the surface of the waters. A
landing is made at Emerald Bay Camp, one of the most popular resorts
of the Lake, and while at the landing the curious traveler should take
a good look at the steep bank of the opposite shore. This is a lateral
moraine of two glaciers, one of which formed Emerald Bay, as is
explained in Chapter VIII, and the other formed Cascade Lake, which
nestles on the other side of the ridge.
At the head of Emerald Bay, also, is Eagle Falls, caused by the
outflow of water from Eagle Lake, which is snugly ensconced at the
base of the rugged granite cliffs some three miles inland.
Four miles beyond Emerald Bay is Tallac, one of the historic resorts
on the Lake.
Tallac was originally Yanks. Yank was really Ephraim Clement,
originally a Yankee from Maine, a stout, hearty, bluff man, who
homesteaded his land, added to it until he owned about a thousand
acres, and finally sold out to E.J. (Lucky) Baldwin. Baldwin had come
over from Virginia City and seeing the great havoc made in the fine
timber, of which he was very fond, exclaimed with an oath: "Someone
will be cutting this (the timber of Yanks) next," and then and there
he began to bargain for the place. In 1878 he bought, changed the
name, and thenceforward Tallac became known. Little by little, as
Yank had done, so Baldwin bought from sheep-men, squatters, and others
until he had quite a holding.
The hotel was built and in 1879 Sharp Brothers ran it. In 1880 Capt.
Gordon was manager for a year, and in 1881 Baldwin gave a lease to
Messrs. Lawrence & Comstock who held it until 1914.
Baldwin was a great lover of trees, and when the present hotel and
cottages were built, not a single tree was cut without his express
permission. Yet he had no foolish sentiment about the matter as is
proven by the fact that all the buildings were constructed from
local lumber produced in his own sawmill, except the redwood used for
finishing. The hotel as it now stands was completed in 1900.
Gulls, pelicans and mud-hens can generally be seen in large numbers
around the piers at Tallac, and the fleet of fishing boats, each with
its one or more eager anglers, is one of the sights.
The steamer stops here long enough to allow a few minutes ashore, and
the visitors ramble over to the hotel, chat or chatter with the Washoe
Indian squaws who have their baskets for sale, or enjoy the grassy and
From the wharf at Tallac visitors for Glen Alpine, Fallen Leaf Lodge,
and Cathedral Park take their respective stages. These three resorts
are within a few miles and afford additional opportunities for lovers
of the region to add to their knowledge of its scenic, botanic,
arboreal and geologic features. Indeed such glacial experts as Joseph
LeConte, John Muir, and David Starr Jordan have united in declaring
that the region around Glen Alpine gives a better opportunity for the
study of comparatively recent glacial phenomena than any other known
Adjoining Tallac on the east is the private residence of W.S. Tevis,
of San Francisco. His beautiful yacht, the _Consuelo_, may
generally be seen anchored here, when not in actual service.
Half a mile from Tallac is The Grove, close to the Upper Truckee
River, the main feeder of Lake Tahoe, and four miles further
is Al-Tahoe, a new and well-equipped hotel, standing on a bluff
commanding an expansive view of the Lake. It practically occupies the
site of an old resort well-known as "Rowland's." It is near to Freel's
Peak (10,900 feet), which in olden days was known as Sand Mountain, on
account of its summit being composed of sand.
A mile and a half further along is Bijou, a pleasant and comfortable
stopping place, while three miles further a picturesque rustic
pavilion on the end of the pier denotes Lakeside Park, a well-known
and long-famous resort. Forty-five years ago, or more, Capt. W.W.
Latham built the famous State Line House at this point, and twenty
years ago it came into the hands of its present owners.
This is the most easterly of all the resorts and settlements at the
south end of Lake Tahoe. It is in California, in El Dorado County,
though its post-office is Stateline, the dividing line between
California and Nevada. The Park is over 2000 acres in extent and has
already become the nucleus for a choice summer residence section.
Leaving Lakeside Park the steamer now turns northward and follows the
eastern or Nevada shore, until Cave Rock is passed and Glenbrook is
reached. This is the only resort on that side of Lake Tahoe. Once the
scene of an active, busy, lumber town, where great mills daily turned
out hundreds of thousands of feet of timber for the mines of Virginia
City and the building up of the great historic mining-camps of Nevada,
the magic of change and of modern improvements has swept away
every sign of these earlier activities and left Glenbrook a quiet,
delightful, restful resort, nestling in its own wide and expansive
meadows at the foot of towering mountains that give a rich and
contrasting background for the perennial beauty of the Lake.
Practically all that remains to remind one of the old days are the
remnants of the logging piers and cribs, the school-house, the quiet
"City of Those who are Gone," and further up the hills, the old
railroad grade on which the logs were carried to the mill and the
lumber taken through the tunnel, which still remains, to the flume by
which it was further conveyed to the railroad at Carson City.
Immediately to the right of Glenbrook, as the steamer heads for the
wharf, can be seen the celebrated Shakspeare Rock. John Vance Cheney,
the poet, thus describes it:
No sooner had the steamer been made fast than a ledge of rocks
was pointed out to us, rising precipitously some distance from
the pier. "Can't you see it?" again and again asked our guide,
renewing his endeavor to dispel our distressing stupidity.
At length "it" appeared to us, and we stood mute with
astonishment. There, on the front of a bold cliff, graven with
all the care of the best copies with which we are familiar,
looked down upon us the face of Shakspeare! As if in
remembrance of her favorite son, here in this far wild region,
nature had caused his features, cut in everlasting rock, to be
hung on high, a fitting symbol of his intellectual
sovereignty over the world. The likeness needs no aid from the
imagination: it is life-like, recognized instantly by the most
careless observer, and, let it be added, never forgotten. The
beard is a trifle longer than we are accustomed to see it, but
this deviation does not detract from the majesty of expression
becoming the illustrious original. The spacious forehead, the
nose, even the eyes, all are admirably represented. A more
astounding surprise it has not been the writer's fortune to
experience. The portrait looks as if it were made by moss
growing upon the smooth flat surface of a huge rock; but we
were informed that the face is all of stone, and has undergone
no perceptible change since its discovery about five years
since. [This was written in 1882.] A lady tourist from
Massachusetts has, it is believed, the honor of first pointing
it out. Nature cannot forget her Shakspeare. So we all mused,
and, musing, would have forgotten our dinners, had we not
been summoned inside the hotel. The repast was not peculiarly
relishable; consequently, we had all the more opportunity
to feed spiritually upon the masterpiece on the cliff,--the
rock-portrait of Avon's, of England's, of the World's immortal
As the steamer leaves Glenbrook one may gain clear and distinct views
of the four prominent peaks of the Nevada side. Above Lakeside, at the
southeast end, is Monument Peak, then, about midway between Lakeside
and Glenbrook is a sharp-pointed bare mass of rock known as Genoa
Peak. Immediately behind Glenbrook is Dubliss Mountain (8729 feet),
so named after Duane Bliss, father and son, both of whom have done
so much to make Tahoe known to the world. Marlette Peak is to the
northeast, 8864 feet, with Snow Valley Peak, 9214 feet, a little to
the South. These both overshadow Marlette Lake, a full description of
which is given elsewhere. All these peaks afford excellent views of
Lake Tahoe on the one side and of the valleys and mountains of western
Nevada on the other.
The steamer now continues along the Nevada shore, past the scars
caused by the breaking of the Marlette Lake flume, by Crystal Bay
and the site of the old town of Incline, around State Line Point to
This resort has been long and favorably known for its famous hot
mineral springs. The hot water is piped to all rooms and private baths
of the hotels and cottages, and is a great source of pleasure as well
as health-giving comfort to the guests.
We are now on the home-stretch, and soon after leaving Brockway (1-1/2
miles away) and forty-five minutes (eight miles) from Tahoe Tavern, we
reach Tahoe Vista. Here one is afforded a perfect view of the Lake and
its snowcapped ranges east and south.
Crossing Agate and Carnelian Bays the steamer's last stop is at
Carnelian Bay. Here there is great building activity going on and many
neat and commodious cottages and bungalows are being erected.
[Illustration: Snowballing in June, July and August, near the Summit
of "The Crags," Deer Park Springs, Lake Tahoe]
[Illustration: Fishing in Grass Lake, Near Glen Alpine Springs]
[Illustration: Rubicon Point, Lake Tahoe]
[Illustration: Brockway's Hot Springs Hotel, Lake Tahoe]
Observatory Point is the last object passed before the Tavern is again
reached. This name was given because of the fact that it was once
the chosen site, by James Lick, for the observatory he contemplated
building. This plan, however, was never carried out, as it was shown
to the philanthropist that the cold weather of winter would work
exceeding hardship upon the astronomers without any compensating
advantages. The result was the Observatory was finally established on
Mt. Hamilton, and it is now a part of the great California University
Thus the complete circuit of Lake Tahoe is made daily in summer by the
steamer, and no matter how often the trip is taken it never palls
upon the intelligent and careful observer. New glories and wonders are
constantly springing forth as pleasant surprises and one soon learns
to realize that here Nature indeed has been most prodigal in her
scenic gifts to mankind.
DEER PARK SPRINGS
While in one sense _all_ the resorts of the Tahoe region are
_mountain_ resorts, a difference should be noted between those
that are located directly on the shores of Lake Tahoe, or some lesser
lake, and those that are away from immediate proximity to a lake.
The latter type is more correctly designated mountain resorts, and of
these are three in the Tahoe region, viz., Deer Park Springs,
Rubicon Springs and Glen Alpine. All these resorts were discovered
by following the trails of animals which were visiting them for "salt
licks" that existed in connection with their mineral waters as related
in the chapter on Glen Alpine.
Deer Park is a private estate of approximately 469 acres, in two
sections, one the Mineral Springs Section, consisting of nearly
309 acres, and on which the celebrated springs--two of soda, one of
sulphur, and one of iron--are located, and the other, the Five Lakes
Section, of 160 acres. The former begins a mile from the Truckee
River, up Bear Creek Canyon. This was originally taken up from the
Government as timber claims, but the timber has never been cut, and
the great pines, firs and junipers remain as the original settlers
found them. The Five Lakes section is a fascinating and attractive
location two miles away, over the first divide of the mountains, and
therefore 1000 feet higher than the Inn, where five glacial lakes
nestle in their granite basin. Four of these, and a large part of the
fifth, are included in the estate, while all surrounding is government
land of the Tahoe National Forest. If a dam were built to restrain the
flow of water into Five Lake Creek, it would need only to be ten feet
high to convert the five lakes into one, so near are they to the same
As it is the flow from these lakes forms Five Lakes Creek, which
empties into the Rubicon and thence into the South Fork of the
Five Lakes afford excellent fishing and a log-cabin, three boats and
fishing tackle are kept here throughout the season for the pleasure of
guests. Those who disdain the ordinary accommodations of a hotel can
here camp out, rough it, and make it their headquarters while climbing
the adjoining peaks or exploring the ravines and canyons at the head
of the American River.
In 1914 a student from Stanford University was _host_ at the Five
Lakes log-cabin. He cooked for those who desired it, helped gather fir
boughs for camp beds, prepared fishing-tackle for women anglers, rowed
them to and fro over the lakes, and accompanied parties to the nearby
summits. There are full accommodations at the cabin for seven persons,
and the rule of the camp is that guests stay only one night, moving on
to make room for the next comer, unless arrangements for a longer stay
are made beforehand. Thus all the guests at Deer Park Inn may enjoy
this novel experience if they so desire.
In the region of Five Lakes, Basque and other foreign shepherds may
be found tending their flocks, and prospectors, with queer little
pack-burros, who climb the mountains seeking the elusive gold, as they
did in the days of '49.
It was from Deer Park that the trail into the famous Hell Hole was
recut by Miss Katherine Chandler, owner of the Inn and estate, in
1908, after having been lost for many years. Arrangements for this
trip, and other famous hunting and fishing trips may be made at the
Inn and many people who have gone over the mountains to the Yosemite
have outfitted and secured their guide here.
One of the finest trail trips of the Tahoe region is that afforded
over the trail, back of Deer Park Inn, to the rugged pile known as The
Crags, over Inspirational Ridge to Ward's Peak. In the early part
of the season great snow banks are encountered, and when the flowers
begin to bloom there are great fields covered with Sierran primroses,
with many patches of white heather and beautiful cyclamens. This is
but one of many fine trail trips that may be made.
_Deer Park Inn_ is one of the oldest and best established resorts
of the Tahoe region. The house that I occupied on my short visit was
a solid log cabin, full of romantic interest, for it was quaint,
old-fashioned and appropriate to the surroundings. The key-note of the
place is comfort. Under its present management a large number of wild
New England flowers have been planted to add their beauty to that of
the native California flower, and each year, about the third week in
July, the guests wander over the sun-kissed slopes, climb the snowy
heights and ramble through the shady woods gathering Sierran flowers
of every hue, form and variety for an annual flower show. This is one
of the distinctive features of the life at Deer Park Inn.
It is an interesting fact here to notice that, when Miss Parsons,
chief author of _Flowers of California_, was preparing that
volume, she found such a wealth of mountain flora in the Deer Park
region that she spent about as many weeks as she had planned for days.
Other botanists have found it equally productive.
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